Work Abroad but earn in USD

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Argentina Investment Ideas

Having just sold my house in the states, I'm looking at various investment opportunities in Argentina. When I arrive there in a week or so, I'll begin trying to find some good places to make some better-than-average returns. I've identified some decent opportunities already, and I'll go over them here for all you would-be investors.

The first thing that caught my eye were short-term apartments that are being rented to foreigners -- like the ones I stay in when I come here. I typically come to argentina for at least a month at a time, so it makes no sense to get a hotel for that long. The best option are short-term apartments. For foreigners renting out a furnished apartment, the going rate is more than twice the amount for locals who get an unfurnished dig. This still represents thousands of dollars in savings over a hotel, mind you, so you're not getting ripped here.

Additionally, locals have to produce all sorts of documentation and go through a lot of hassle to rent a place out that foreigners do not have to deal with. Apparently its hard to get long-term tenants out when they stop paying, so they have to put up all sorts of payment guarantees to the landlord. Foreigners don't have to deal with any of that nonsense.

Anyhow, the going rental rate on a $40,000 USD apartment could be $700 / month if furnished nicely. That's pretty good in my book. Add to this the fact that the landlord can use a property management service for free (the renter pays the commission), and you have situation that is much better than the United States, where I've only ever been able to get a 6-8% return on a rental when using a property manager (I don't like to deal with tenants).

Another investment I'm looking into is taxi cabs. Through an associate of mine who owns about 10 along with his father (its somewhat of a family business), I've learned that the return on these can be out of this world. I'm talking about 1000 pesos per month in profit on a $35,000 peso initial investment for the taxi license and car -- not to shabby at all. That's a little over 34%. I need to get more details on this, but needless to say, my curiosity is peaked. I'll report more once I find out more.

Once I go forward with one of these deals (or possibly both), I'd be happy to help out other foreigners who'd like to get their feet wet in the local Argentine market. I hope that some other people here can e-mail in some other good investment ideas so I can share that with the group as well.


Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Immigration Process

Today, I finally got my residence visa that allows me to stay in Argentina. Before, I had always been limited to 90 day stays, as per Argentine law. Although... some of my Argentine friends have always told me that I shouldn't bother with the requirements and stay as long as I want, "This isn't the United States," they say, "they government isn't going to do anything if you stay longer," I still prefer to do everything the legal way.

In addition to simply getting a residence permit which allows you legal residency, you also get a DNI. It's the equivalent of a social security number and it allows you to open bank accounts, turn on utility service, incorporate a local company, etc. You can't do anything in the country without a DNI, so it is worthwhile to get one.

When I finally got my visa from the consulate, they give me two little envelopes. One is taken by immigrations at the airport and the other is one that I must turn in to the "hall of records" within 19 days of my arrival, I believe. So, now I must find out where one of these records places is.

The process at the consulate was not bad. They simply take all your documents, check to make sure they are in good order, and issue the visa right there. The fee was just $100, which is very reasonable. The whole process took maybe two hours, which was made up of mostly waiting for the papers to be processed. I did find it funny that I was fingerprinted as well. I suppose they figure foreigners are more likely to commit a crime, so they want all the prints on file.

In fact, the biggest pain was getting all the documents in the first place. They required quite a few, which I'm going to name here just to show:

  • Birth Certificate
  • Medical Exam
  • Verification of Doctor's Medical License
  • Criminal History Report
  • Signed Affidavit of No International Criminal Record
  • Application Form
At first you might think, "Hey, that's not bad," but every single document must be translated to Spanish and each document and its translation notarized and then legalized with an apostille. It took me a little more than a month to get all the documents together, notarized, legalized, translated, and the translations notarized, and then legalized. By the time you're done you have a stack of papers in your hands and you just want to be rid of them!

This, however, is only for the US portion of the immigration process. First you have to be approved for entry into the country by the Migrations Division within Argentina. I had a local lawyer take care of this for me and I highly recommend him. E-mail me if you'd like his contact information. He took care of everything for me and even negotiated with the director of migrations there on my behalf. I was a special case since I'm self employed and wasn't going to Argentina on behalf of a business. So, I had no letter of appointment to show them. Despite this, he was able to arrange things so that I could be admitted under a different visa program called "Visa De Rentista".

Using this Rentista program, you have to prove that you have a certain level of income from investments abroad and that you can transfer that money to support yourself in Argentina. Essentially, the government doesn't want you to become a burden on them, so they insist you have enough income to make your way in Argentina without having to find work and take a job from a local. My visa is valid for one year and I am told that I only have to renew it twice before it becomes permanent. Only at that point will I be an official permanent resident.

When I finally enter the country on my visa and get my DNI number, I'll have more information about that.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Learning Spanish In Argentina

If you're coming to Argentina and you've decided to take Spanish courses while you're here, congratulations are in order. Not only will the porteños appreciate your attempt to speak their language, but you'll also be on your way to becoming a better ambassador of your country. If you've traveled outside the United States, even a little, you already know that Americans are probably the only people from a developed nation who do not generally speak a second language. It says something about our culture when we expect the rest of the world to speak our language, but we make no effort to learn another language ourselves.

There is no question that the best way to actually learn a foreign language is to study it directly in a foreign country. If you're coming to Argentina for the sole purpose of learning Spanish, there are several things to consider. If you're going to be in Argentina for an extended period and you want to take Spanish lessons on a part-time basis, there are other issues to think about.

Full Time Spanish

If you're going to go all-out and make learning Spanish the primary focus of your trip, you first need to ask yourself, "Is Argentina the country where I want to learn Spanish?" Now, I'm not one to discourage people from coming to Argentina, just the opposite, but there are several issues to consider. Porteños have a very distinct dialect and it will be forever known to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world that you learned your Spanish in Argentina. That may be an issue for you or not; it just depends on where you will be using your Spanish.

Additionally, if you want to become fluent, you'll need to really live here for 6 months or so, with a host family, if possible. Argentina isn't the cheapest Latin American country. Ecuador, Peru, or even parts of Mexico will be cheaper than Argentina. If you're going to be living in a place for 6 months, you may want to pick someplace that will be easier on the pocketbook. Even after the devaluation, prices for language institutes have not dropped. You'll be charged in dollars, not the newly devalued pesos.

On the other hand, Buenos Aires offers a fantastic nightlife and a better overall living experience than Quito, Cuzco, Oaxaca, or Guadalajara. If you're going to be living in a place for six months while you attempt to become fluent, you're probably going to want to find a place where you can go out and have some fun at night. Buenos Aires fits the bill. Coming from Arizona, where the bars close (by law) at 1:15 a.m., Buenos Aires is certaily a big change. You'll find bars and clubs here that are open all night long and you'll still find people arriving at 2:00 a.m. and beyond.

Part Time Spanish

Learning Spanish part time in Argentina carries its own set of challenges. First, what is your schedule like when you're here? If you're going to be traveling around the country extensively for tourism, it probably isn't possible to take Spanish lessons. If you're going to be in Buenos Aires or Cordoba, or another city for a longer period of time, you'll have more luck. If you do intend to be in the city for a good amount of time, what is your schedule going to be like there? Will you be in meetings from 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM all day? Will the weekends be your only free time?

The reason you must consider all these schedule issues is that the most economical way to take Spanish lessons in Buenos Aires is typically through group classes with other foreigners. These classes are typically geared toward people who are staying with host families and learning Spanish is the primary objective of their stay in Argentina. If you're visiting on business and you're going to have work during the weekdays, it probably isn't going to be possible for you to take group classes at a language school.

You're going to want to look for private individual tutoring that can work with your schedule. There are even tutors available who will come to your place of business or your hotel/apartment and tutor you there, saving you a good deal of travel time to and from the language school. Your needs will vary depending on the complexities of your schedule.

Learning At A Language Institute

If you want to learn Spanish at a language institute, there are a number of choices for you in Buenos Aires. A strong expatriate and foreign community has been developing in Bueons Aires since the devaluation and there are a number of Spanish institutes to meet the needs of foreigners who want to learn the language. Included below is a table that will get you on your way to finding a place to study.

Note: I have not used any of these institutes personally, so you will want to check references before you make a comittment to any particular school. Ask the admisstions director for a list of previous students and give them a call or send an e-mail. Just like in the United States, you're going to need to do your due dilligence before comitting yourself to any specific place. It will be difficult to change schools once you are in Argentina if you find out that you dislike the Spanish school you're studying with. So, make sure you or an assistant puts in some quality research time before deciding on a school.

No School Name Group Price (1 hr) Individual Price (1 hr)
1 Argentina I.L.E.E. $10 $16
2 Universidad De Belgrano N/A N/A
3 CEDIC $6 $9
4 International Bureau of Language $4.35 N/A
5 Latin Immersion $8.50 $13.50
6 Asociación Argentina de Docentes de Español $5.35 $6.42

Please Note: All prices in the above table are as of 4/11/04, using data from the schools' own websites. Peso-based prices have been converted to USD at the current exchange rate of 2.80:1. Prices & exchange rates may have changed since publication. You should check with the individual school to obtain up-to-date pricing information.

The Selection Process

As you can see from the list above, the prices vary widely. The quality and professionalism of the schools varries widely also. Remember the old adage, you get what you pay for. Before you even start to negotiate price with a Spanish school, make sure you contact their references first. It isn't even worth considering a school if they can't provide you with references and they don't want you to speak with their former students. Once you've checked references and narrowed down your list, then it is time to start the negotiating.

Hints For Getting The Best Deal

Although I never attended a langauge school, I was considering it at one time, so I did contact them to negotiate the pricing. If you are staying for an extended period (4 weeks or more) or you are coming down in a group of 2 or 3, you may be able to negotiate a discount. However, be careful about the way you go about this. Do not say, "I know you are overcharging foreigners, so I want the local price." You will not get anywhere. Remember, Argentina is a capitalist country and the businesses deserve the opportunity to make a profit. However, if you go about it tactfully and say you are looking for the best deal possible, they will respect that and probably take 10-15% off the listed price in an attempt to earn your business.

Independent Private Instruction

Although most of the language institutes offer private classes, a language institute is not your only option for private instruction. In fact, I'd urge you to consider other options as well. Going with a language institute will give you high quality instruction from teachers who are experienced teaching to foreigners. On the other hand, you're going to be paying foreign prices. Don't think for a minute that porteños pay the same rates when they go to an institute to learn English.

One excellent option (the one I ended up using) was going with an independent private instructor. The instructor I used was actually a Spanish teacher at one of the many language institutes in Buenos Aires, but she taught me on an individual basis -- she was moonlighting. This option eliminates the middleman (the language school) and lets the Spanish instructor make a little more money for herself on the side and it lets the student pay a more reasonable price. The quality of instruction is the same, the hours can be tailored to your schedule, and the instructor can come to your residence or place of business. I found it to be the ideal option.

Finding Someone To Teach You

Of course, most private instructors are not going to have websites. And the ones who are moonlighting from their day job as an instructor in a language institute are certainly not going to advertise what they are doing. So, you have to ask around to find someone. If you don't have a large network of contacts in Argentina, you can often times rely on a local to help you out. If you're being sent to Argentina by your company, surely you have a contact there in your company's Argentina office. Give them a call and ask if they know anyone. Perhaps they can give someone a call at the one of the universities and see if someone's available.

It can take some more work to find someone this way, but if you plan on taking a lot of classes and you need someone to work around your schedule, this is the best way to find someone at a reasonable price.

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Welcome To Expat Argentina

To the foreign visitor, Argentina and Buenos Aires can be both exciting and overwhelming. The immense sprawl of the city, the beauty of the countryside, the porteños and their soccer madness... it's all part of what makes this country unique. Whether you're visiting for business or pleasure, Argentina offers the foreign visitor a wealth of opportunities. This website is a simple attempt to share my experience with other foreign travelers, business people, and expatriates. I welcome your comments and questions. See you in Buenos Aires.

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